The T-SPLOST – Passage will obstruct progress

By Ron Sifen

The TSPLOST was supposed to be about reducing traffic congestion.

The Atlanta Regional Commission has conceded that the TSPLOST projects list will do little to reduce regional commute times. The ARC says they are defining “alleviating traffic congestion” as meaning increasing the number of people who can reach a point in the region within 45 minutes. The ARC has conceded that this has nothing to do with improving the flow of traffic, and that it will have an insignificant impact on reducing commute times.

The reason that so many state legislators are now opposing the TSPLOST is that the projects list became a massive bait-and-switch. Most of the money, billions of dollars, is going to projects that will do little or nothing to improve the flow of traffic.

In public presentations on both July 12 and July 13, TSPLOST proponents said

* Light rail has NOTHING to do with reducing traffic congestion, and

* Light rail has NOTHING to do with moving people.

* Cities build light rail to promote economic development.

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation recently concluded that the TSPLOST projects list has “massive boondoggles that will put this state at a disadvantage for decades,“ and that “it would commit the region to wasteful spending on questionable projects for long past the 10-year sales tax.”

They also point out that rail transit is appropriate in places with very high population density. However Atlanta has the lowest population density of any major city in the world.

Express bus is the form of transit that can best meet the needs of a city that has low population density and widely dispersed employment centers.

Light rail will likely wind up being at least 50 times more expensive to implement than express bus, and light rail is also drastically more expensive to operate and maintain. The TSPLOST will obligate a huge amount of future transportation dollars for purposes that have nothing to do with improving traffic flow on our roads.

In 2004, the State of Georgia produced the Regional Transit Action Plan (RTAP). The RTAP could have provided an affordable seamless transit network, serving the entire region, for less than 1/5th of what three light rail projects will cost.

For 80 percent less money, the region could have gotten dramatically superior service that would better serve the needs of our low population density city. Special interests opposed the RTAP because the only thing it would do was to address the region’s transportation needs. The RTAP did not provide a way for special interests to hijack taxpayer dollars for their personal profit.

Not only does the TSPLOST squander billions on projects that will not reduce congestion. It also obligates huge amounts of future transportation dollars to purposes that will not reduce traffic congestion. Passage of the TSPLOST will literally financially obstruct the Atlanta region from ever being able to solve our traffic problems.

The TSPLOST failed to fund many good projects that would have actually helped to improve the flow of traffic. Yes, there are a few good projects on the list. Billions are being squandered on projects that will not improve the flow of traffic.

TSPLOST supporters tell us that Dallas and Denver have light rail, so we must have the same toys that those cities have. They don’t mention that both Dallas and Denver have longer commute times than Atlanta. Light rail does not have a track record for reducing traffic congestion anywhere.

When confronted with these issues, TSPLOST supporters suddenly reverse themselves and say that Cobb’s transit project won’t really be light rail. It will just be $689 million to enhance an existing bus route. What could be more ridiculous than $689 million to enhance an existing bus route? Project CO-035 clearly states that if Cobb’s “alternatives analysis” study recommends light rail, that this project can be light rail. Light rail will cost at least $3 billion, and taxpayers are going to get whacked for the “cost overruns.“

TSPLOST supporters like to ask a trick question. Should Atlanta reject a good projects list in hopes of a perfect projects list? Unfortunately, we don’t have that choice. We have to make a decision about a projects list that is so bad, that it will literally financially obstruct this region from ever solving our traffic problems.

It is absurd for TSPLOST proponents to claim that if voters don’t approve their special interest boondoggles, that the region will give up and do nothing. On July 31 voters should reject the boondoggles list, and send a clear message demanding a new projects list that spends the money on reducing traffic congestion.

Ron Sifen of Vinings is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCCC.  All articles are posted with the author’s permission.

Article Printed in the Marietta Daily Journal on July 28, 2012.

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